Want a killer cardio workout without a major time commitment? Then shrink your routine with extra intensity. Ease into a vigorous routine with interval training, which allows you to push hard for a short period of time and then go back to an easier level. You need 150 minutes or more of moderate-intensity cardio per week to get the health benefits, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. When exercising at a vigorous intensity, you need half that. Count each vigorous interval as two minutes of moderate cardio, and work up to an all-vigorous routine. This will eventually whittle your workout schedule to just 75 minutes per week.
You may know cardio when you see it, but what is it exactly? Also called aerobic exercise, cardio is any sustained activity that uses a major muscle group and raises your breathing and pulse rates. To count, it has to last at least 10 minutes. Common cardio exercises include walking, using an elliptical machine or stair stepper, running, swimming or riding a bicycle. During moderate cardio, you can speak comfortably but not sing. During vigorous cardio, speaking more then several words is a challenge.
The shortest route to a great cardio workout is interval training. By training in intervals, you'll be able to reach more intense levels than you would with a sustained pace, offering maximum aerobic benefit and increased calorie burn. If you're a cardio newbie, start by walking at a moderate pace for three minutes. Then power walk or jog for two minutes. Go back to your slower interval, and repeat the cycle for a 30-minute total workout. As your fitness level rises, up the ante with faster intervals. Do this routine five days per week for maximum cardio benefit. If you're more advanced, perform jogging and running intervals, and eventually running and sprinting intervals. With these intense workouts, you can get away with just 15 minutes a day, five days per week.
Simply put, cardio is one of the best things you can do for your body. You'll develop a stronger heart and more lung power, and your blood vessels will deliver oxygen and nutrients throughout your body more efficiently. Everyday activities will become easier, and you'll be better equipped to sail through surprise physical challenges. Cardio also improves your mood and combats stress while boosting your immune system for reduced risk of infection. Perhaps the top cardio prize of all is longevity; those who exercise tend to live longer than those who don't.
Before you get too crazy with the cardio, step back and plan a safe routine. Start out at an intensity that's appropriate for your fitness level. If walking 30 minutes isn't possible for you, start with 10 and move up from there. If you're exercising outdoors, dress for the weather. Always stay hydrated, and skip your workout if you feel sick or exhausted. If you have medical conditions such as asthma or high blood pressure, chat with your doctor before starting any exercise program.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: How Much Physical Activity do Adults Need?
- ShareCare.com: What is Cardiovascular (Cardio) Exercise?
- MayoClinic.com: Rev Up Your Workout with Interval Training
- MayoClinic.com: Aerobic Exercise: Top 10 Reasons to Get Physical
- Harvard Health Publications: 10 Tips for Exercising Safely
Nina K. is a Los Angeles-based journalist who has been published by USAToday.com, Fitday.com, Healthy Living Magazine, Organic Authority and numerous other print and web publications. She has a philosophy degree from the University of Colorado and a journalism certificate from UCLA.